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Reading National American Literary Historiography Internationally

Reading National American Literary Historiography Internationally OR ANYONE APPROACHING the topic of literary historiography today, the proliferation of recent or ongoing projects such as the Columbia Literary History of the United States or the new Cambridge History of American Literature suggests an unbroken continuity in the practice of writing literary histories. At the same time, however, a cursory glance at provocative titles such as “The Fall of Literary History” (Wellek), “The Impasse of Literary History” (Wellek), or Is Literary History Possible? (Perkins)—a question which David Perkins at least hesitates to answer in the affirmative—reveals the extent to which literary historiography has fallen into critical and theoretical disrepute. At the core of this widespread theoretical scepticism lies a profound distrust of narrative modes of “emplotment” (Hayden White) as deployed by the vast majority of literary histories far into the twentieth century. Such plot constructions become even more problematic in light of the ways in which language itself inflects material reality. In the context of such discursive transformations, Perkins concludes that the only legitimate function of literary history can be “to produce useful fictions about the past” (Possible 182). An awareness of such fictions, as well as of the specific situatedness of each literary historian, is, http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Comparative Literature Duke University Press

Reading National American Literary Historiography Internationally

Comparative Literature , Volume 52 (3) – Jan 1, 2000

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Publisher
Duke University Press
Copyright
Copyright 2000 by University of Oregon
ISSN
0010-4124
eISSN
1945-8517
DOI
10.1215/-52-3-193
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

OR ANYONE APPROACHING the topic of literary historiography today, the proliferation of recent or ongoing projects such as the Columbia Literary History of the United States or the new Cambridge History of American Literature suggests an unbroken continuity in the practice of writing literary histories. At the same time, however, a cursory glance at provocative titles such as “The Fall of Literary History” (Wellek), “The Impasse of Literary History” (Wellek), or Is Literary History Possible? (Perkins)—a question which David Perkins at least hesitates to answer in the affirmative—reveals the extent to which literary historiography has fallen into critical and theoretical disrepute. At the core of this widespread theoretical scepticism lies a profound distrust of narrative modes of “emplotment” (Hayden White) as deployed by the vast majority of literary histories far into the twentieth century. Such plot constructions become even more problematic in light of the ways in which language itself inflects material reality. In the context of such discursive transformations, Perkins concludes that the only legitimate function of literary history can be “to produce useful fictions about the past” (Possible 182). An awareness of such fictions, as well as of the specific situatedness of each literary historian, is,

Journal

Comparative LiteratureDuke University Press

Published: Jan 1, 2000

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